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Disability charities slam West Sussex council for banning cuts film
Disability charities have criticised council officials who campaigners say are refusing to show a short film featuring the victims of budget cuts.
Peter Adams, member of the Don’t Cut Us Out group, claims he is not able to show the short film at Friday’s full council meeting.
But West Sussex County Council said it has “bent over backwards” to facilitate Don’t Cut Us Out campaigners, without which the debate would not be happening.
The group created a 5,000-strong petition against cuts to the adult services budget, which it claims has impacted on elderly and disabled people.
Peter Adams, from Bognor Regis, who has muscular dystrophy, wanted to show the film, which tells the story of six people in “dire straits” who all say they cannot afford to live or can no longer leave their homes.
After the film was initially approved, chairman Mike Coleman said the film would “disrupt proceedings” and could not be shown.
The council then changed its mind again, agreeing to make a “reasonable adjustment” to let Mr Adams use his allocated five minutes to show a film – but said it must be “to the subject matter of the petition”, “not feature other people” and “cannot include words or representations about other people”.
The email from council officer Charles Gauntlett said the film would be ruled “out of order” if it does not comply with these rules.
Barry Pickthall, from Don’t Cut Us Out, dubbed the “unprecedented” move an attempt to “silence the elderly and disabled from speaking out about the crisis in care support”.
He said: “The council officers have known all along exactly what’s in the film and said it is fine.”
Margaret Guest, chairman of the Don’t Cut Us Out campaign, said banning the film would be a “disgraceful abuse of power”.
She added: “Nowhere within the council’s petitions scheme does it state that audio/visual aids cannot be used to aid the disabled to address the council, or limit the content of a video to the petitioner speaking.”
Andy Soar, a campaign officer at Action Duchenne, which supports people with muscular dystrophy, said: “To not allow people with severe disabilities to have their voices heard on issues which highly impact their quality of life is very worrying.”
Disability charity Scope said the council has to make reasonable adjustments for Mr Adams to participate in local democracy, and James Hodge, from learning disability charity Mencap, said the he would be “shocked and appalled” if the film is banned.
A West Sussex County Council spokesman said claims the film has been banned are “completely untrue” and “another typical piece of misrepresentation from Don’t Cut Us Out”.
They added: “We have bent over backwards to facilitate Don’t Cut Us Out. Far from silencing the elderly and disabled we have agreed to the group’s speaker presenting a video to enable him to present his case.
“The group has also asked to show a film and, whilst we said that could not form part of the debate, we said at the outset that we would be happy to distribute it to all county councillors.
“We have also done everything possible to facilitate a debate, including car parking, refreshments and toilet facilities.”
They said the time limit for Don’t Cut Us Out’s petition to be handed in was extended when they failed to reached the required number of signatures, adding: “If we had not done that there would not be a debate.”